Q&A by devCodeCamp Hiring Partner MSI Data with recent graduates about their experience working in software.

When you think of a software developer, do you think of someone with a liberal arts degree? How about a trades background? It may sound too good to be true, but more and more are teaching themselves or taking a non-traditional path to learn development. In 2016, Stack Overflow surveyed 45,000 developers and found that less than half have Computer Science degrees. The survey also showed that 2/3 of developers are at least partly self-taught.

A devCodeCamp hiring partner, MSI Data is a growing field service software company with a dedicated, tight knit  workplace culture. MSI employees work hard daily to improve their world-class field service app for their clients. Like devCodeCamp, MSI is proactive in partnering to develop software engineering talent, including a successful partnership with devCodeCamp in Milwaukee.

devCodeCamp is a full-stack development program that trains people from all backgrounds. Their graduates have launched careers in many small, mid-sized and large companies, including MSI. Paul Jirovetz, VP of Ops from devCodeCamp, works with Matt Guth, VP of Development to place talent at MSI. Recently, MSI hired Nathan Whitcomb and Robert Moon, who both completed devCodeCamp’s program this summer. Neither had a background in IT prior to MSI with devCodeCamp, both were able to hone their craft in just 16 weeks.
Robert and Nathan have shared their insights about devCodeCamp and how the program prepared them to work at MSI.

How did you become interested in software development?

Nathan: I was an English teacher for almost five years, and as my idealism of the career waned, I decided I should look for something else. When I stopped teaching, I thought I had transferable skills and that I’d get something in writing or marketing, but this wasn’t the case. I came close, but never got any solid job offers. Next, I started a website and wrote in-depth long form journalism about Milwaukee’s brewery scene. My site was on WordPress, and I just didn’t like knowing exactly how back end works. So I started researching software development, and it seemed like a solid career that would let me do things I like doing- be analytical, problem solve, make something. It’s generative and creative.

Robert: Robert: I originally wanted to be a ship captain. Besides working on ships, I’ve worked in a warehouse, landscaping, retail and refinished furniture, among other things. Basically, if I think it sounds interesting, I’ll give it a shot. All of my life, I’ve been around computers and have spent my time breaking and fixing my own computers. I have always found myself asking “what does this button do…,” and rather than looking up what said button does, I’d press and find out. With a personal computer, there is ownership in fixing what you break. If you don’t, you’ve lost an invaluable tool. Surprisingly I had no formal training until I was in my 30s. I attempted to study programming on my own, but if you get stuck trying to teach yourself programming, it’s easy to walk away.

Why did you choose devCodeCamp?

Nathan: Compared to the “traditional” path, devCodeCamp has a solid track record and offers things that other places don’t. They worked really hard to help place me. There are no guarantees, but Paul understood who I was as a person as well as my strengths and weaknesses. It was fast, effective, and offered me more than just classes.

Robert: I found devCodeCamp after spending a summer refinishing furniture and trying to teach myself to code after work. I don’t know if this is a character flaw, but I am very externally motivated. Basically, if there’s no external driving force for my actions, I tend to drift from project to project. By the end of the summer, I realized that as much as I love woodworking–a hobby I still practice–I couldn’t keep it as a career. As I researched devCodeCamp, it seemed like a perfect fit. The combination of having deadlines and external value applied to teaching oneself and made for an environment that was well suited to my learning style.

When did you start and finish the program and begin working at MSI?

Nathan: I started at end of March 2017 and finished in July. After finishing, I freelanced for Hanson Dodge for about a week. I also did an I Live For Football– JavaScript stack web app for high school football players. I had two interviews prior to MSI, and began working at MSI on Oct. 9.

Robert: MSI was touring devCodeCamp while I and a group of recent graduates were working on a web application for a local startup. Our team was invited to present both our personal projects as well as the web app we were building for the startup.

How did you get an interview at MSI?

Nathan: Paul contacted Matt and told them I’d make an app for them using Xamarin if I had an interview there. I came in and showed them the app and got some feedback during the interview. I started working here about three or four weeks after the interview.

Robert:I finished the program at devCodeCamp in February of 2016. Over summer 2016, I worked for two startups in Milwaukee. In November 2016, I signed on with MSI.

What do you like best about working in the software industry and MSI in particular?

Nathan: First, I like everyone I work with and the team dynamic. Being part of a team motivates me. I like working on what I feel is the lead guard for what it does. There is always more to learn, and I work with awesome people who help me on that journey. The world is changing, and if you can’t develop software or understand how it impacts your role, someone else will take over your job.

Robert: What I love the most about the software industry is what I hate the most about it: you are never finished. There’s always more to build. More to implement. More to test. Most of all, there is always more to learn. While this is nerve wracking at times, it provides an incredibly dynamic work space and minor wins all day long that eventually lead to bigger wins.

Is working in the software industry similar to what you would have expected? Different? How?

Nathan: It was exactly as I expected! I wanted to work for a big, complex app, and that’s what I’m doing.

Robert:I attempt to live my life without expectations. My experience is that expectations do little good and often end up replacing the experience. I went to devCodeCamp purely as an educational experience. They provided an environment that suited my learning style of teaching myself, combined with external goals and motivators. In a way, I met my expectation since I left being a competent junior developer. BUT I’m not done learning. What I have seen so far is that you cannot stay static. But hey, that’s the case in every industry.

What aspects in the program best prepared you for your job at MSI?

Nathan: First, the program pace is intense and makes others seem slow in comparison. You learn how to learn fast. Next, they’re good at teaching the latest technologies that the local market uses today. Learning C# was very important and helps in my role. The program is full stack, which makes it useful to understand how all application layers work together. There are some good team projects which were important in teaching me how to be a team player.

Robert: The principal to take away from devCodeCamp is learning to find your own answers. I’ve learned other things from devCodeCamp that are incredibly valuable: clean code, various high level concepts about how programming languages, etc. But learning how to find answers on your own is a skill that transcends software development.

By Mrinal Gokhale, Marketing for MSI Data

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